THE MEMORIAL PROJECT
On June 6, 2000 the Omaha World Heard published an article concerning the opening of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. The article stated the National D-Day Museum had been located in New Orleans in honor of Andrew Higgins and the workers of Higgins Industries, Inc. The article stated Andrew Higgins was born in Columbus, Nebraska.
When Jerry Meyer, social studies teacher at Columbus High School, read the article. He thought it appropriate to present the information to his classes and ask if they would like to honor this very important man. They eagerly excepted this challenge. This was the beginning of a “Service Learning Project” which took three years to complete.
His social studies students were divided into six committees. All of his students were given the opportunity to submit ideas that would like to see included in a memorial to Mr. Higgins. Local company Gilmore & Associates, donated the engineering, surveying and architectural services to the project. Their architect meet with the students. He jotted down each idea as it was presented. When the students and architect met again he had incorporated all their ideas into the memorial. The original plan was upgraded, but the outcome appears very much like the original architectural drawing.
A State Historical Sign greets guests as they enter the memorial. The United States, MIA, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, along with the Nebraska and Louisiana state flags fly high above the Memorial Wall. Service flags of the Army, Navy, Marines, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force line the sidewalk at the entrance to the memorial. Flags from each state and territory, along with flags specially made to honor Columbus High School staff and students surround the memorial.
The center piece of the memorial is the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) boat designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins and built by Higgins Industries, Inc. of New Orleans, LA. The LCVP within the memorial was designed and built by a local company using original plans. Due to the outdoor park setting this full sized boat is made from steel rather than mahogany as would have been used in the original boat. The boat includes a moving steering wheel and gun placement. This allows visitors to opportunity to experience first hand the size and location of the coxswain and gunners on the boat.
The memorial has been beautifully landscaped. Two Eagle Scouts have been involved with the landscaping projects. Ten benches each purchased by an organization or family, have been placed throughout the memorial allowing visitors to sit and reflect. Six more donated benches, along with additional sidewalks and landscaping, was added to the memorial during the spring of 2004. Eleven descriptive signs, purchased by local organizations, describe the building of the memorial.
Each phase of the project included veterans:
- The first year the project honored WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans that had served in battle using a “Higgins Boat”. Veterans from not only Columbus but, as far away as California, were involved and honored. Among the many unique components that make up the memorial is the collection of sand samples. The students, through months of searching and hard work, collected sand from all the beaches of WWII, Korea and Vietnam where the “Higgins Boats” landed. This sand is encased in stainless steel vaults placed under brass stars engraved with the name of each individual island. To the best of our knowledge this is the only memorial where visitors can walk on the sand from all the islands in one location. During the August 2001 dedication veterans consecrated the memorial by sprinkling D-Day landing beach sand around the memorial’s Higgins Boat. The actual sand from each island can be viewed at the Platte County Historical Museum in Columbus.
- The second year all veterans from the six branches of the service were honored. “Freedom is not Free” is the phrase used by many veterans. A life sized bronze soldier from each of the three wars, WWII, Korean, Vietnam wars was added to the memorial. Each statue, crafted by artist Fred Hoppe, represents a highly decorated local soldier. As part of the dedication program the honored veterans, or a family member representing the veteran was there to unveil their statue. All veterans were invited to lay carnation at the base of each soldier during the dedication Representatives from each of the six branches of the service took part in the raising of their military flags. The second phase of the memorial was dedicated during Memorial Day weekend, 2002.
- “Freedom” was the theme of the third phase of this memorial. Following the first dedication on August 23,2001 the United States was struck with the first terrorist attack on our home soil. Pieces of World Trade Center steel were secured to build a sculpture for the memorial. This sculpture was built in honor of those who lost their lives in this attack. It also honors all people who are involved in the war against terrorism. A large bronzed Freedom Eagle, with a wingspan of eight feet, towers over the World Trade Center steel sculpture. The two structures do not touch to symbolize that terrorists cannot destroy Freedom.
A life-sized bronze statue of Andrew Jackson Higgins was added to the memorial. Dawn Higgins Murphy, daughter Andrew Jackson Higgins along with other family members, dedicated this statue.
The Freedom Eagle statue and the statue of Andrew Jackson Higgins were both dedicated on August 16, 2003. Three thousand red, white and blue carnations were laid at the base of this statue in honor of the three thousand lives lost during the attack.
The project has offered five thousand bricks to be installed on walls within the memorial. This sale of bricks, not only brings much needed finances into the project but, allows many people to become involved with the project. Each brick sell for $50.00 each and includes the inscription of three lines on each brick. Many bricks have been purchased to honor the military service of veterans ranging from the Spanish-American War to the latest conflict in Iraq. The memorial will accommodate approximately 1500 more bricks. Visitors to the memorial, along with local citizens, have the opportunity to purchase these bricks.
The seven-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 81 south of Columbus has been named “The Andrew Jackson Higgins Expressway”. This highly visible project is located in West Pawnee Park along Highway 30 and Highway 81.